Politically Incorrect: of “Neger” and “Dirndl”

Two recent debates in Germany have made world headlines, and for once, neither is about Nazis or the Oktoberfest.

The first was a proposal that classic children’s books be censored of anything not corresponding to present-day standards of political correctness. Thus, words like “Neger” (“Negro”) and “Mohr” (“Moor”) would disappear, as well as references to “lying Africans” and, in general, all things having to do with “attitudes of white supremacy” and “Colonial racism”.

The second was also revisionist. In the German weekly Stern, journalist Laura Himmelreich related an incident from 2012 when FDP politician Rainer Brüderle ‘complemented’ her on her full bosom “filling her Dirndl nicely”. Thousands of enraged tweets followed, citing frustrations with how men treat women in German society.

On ARD TV, women’s rights activist Alice Schwarzer told host Günther Jauch that today’s young women think the issue had been solved; so when they see sexism still at work, they are shocked.

If we censor the racist slurs and social prejudices of the past, they may be forgotten, just to re-appear in the future. If we pretend offensive words were never used in polite conversation, we risk losing the sense of progress already made. If we can stop using “Neger”, someday suggestive language will seem just as lame.

It’s about respect, not denial. How men treat their sisters, mothers and daughters should be the guide for non-romantic relationships. Instead of denying racism or sexism, we should teach our children tolerance, that differences are not to be feared, but to learn from. And even to be enjoyed.

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